Navigation Lights Check List

Check your lights before heading out.

  • Check switches are on.
  • Check navigation lights are on and working.
  • Physically check each light is on.
  • Turn off cabin lights as it may reduce your ability to see.
  • If the vessel has a flybridge and weather permits, it is generally preferable to drive from there as you will have a better all round view.
  • If you anchor at night, show an all-round white light where it can best be seen.

Keep A Lookout

Navigating at night requires special care – it can be like looking into a black hole. Look and listen at all times, as a number of hazards such as logs, moored boats or sandbanks are unlit.

Navigation lights may not be as bright as other lights and background lights may hide something that is closer. If it is a large ship, the lights might be high and you may not realise that you are looking at the sides of a black hull.

If you have the slightest doubt, stop, ensure you are lit and have a good look around you.


Look Out At Night
  • Is that a vessel(s)?
  • How big is it?
  • What direction is it travelling in?
  • How fast is it moving?
  • How far away is it?
  • Does it have priority?
  • What is our relative position?


    Know Your Waterway..

Navigation markers can aid you in safe passage of a waterway. These aids to navigation can indicate where prominent hazards are, but should be coupled with reference to a map or chart and use of local knowledge of the area, particularly in the dark.


All round white light: a white light showing an unbroken light over an arc of the horizon of 360 degrees.

Masthead light: a white light placed over the fore and aft centreline of a vessel, showing an unbroken light over an arc of the horizon of 225 degrees and fixed to show from anywhere ahead, to just behind the beams of the vessel.

Sidelights: a green light on the starboard (right) side, and a red light on the port (left) side of a vessel. Each shows an unbroken light over an arc of the horizon of 112.5 degrees, and is fixed to show from ahead to just behind the beams of the vessel on its respective side.

On a vessel of less than 20 metres in length, the sidelights may be combined in one light unit, carried on the fore and aft centreline of the vessel.

Sternlight: a white light placed near the stern, showing an unbroken light over an arc of the horizon of 135 degrees, fixed to show from behind the vessel.


Range Of Visibility

Vessels Under 12 Metres

  • Masthead light – 2 miles
  • Sidelight – 1 mile
  • Stern light – 2 miles
  • All round lights – 2 miles

Vessels 12 Metres To 20 Metres

  • Masthead light – 3 miles
  • Sidelight and stern light – 2 miles
  • All round lights – 2 miles

Placement of lights

Navigation lights should be positioned so they are not obscured by the vessel’s superstructure or interfered with by deck lights.


The masthead and/or all round white light must be fitted (if practical) on the centreline (bow to stern) of the vessel.

Power Vessels Underway:

Vessels Under 7 Metres And Less Than

7 Knots

Powered vessels of less than 7 metres in length, with a maximum speed of 7 knots or less, shall exhibit a white light visible all round and if possible, separate and/or combined sidelights

Vessels Under 12 Metres

  • Separate or combined sidelights; a masthead light and a stern light; or
  • Separate or combined sidelights and an all round white light.

The masthead or white all round light shall be carried at least one metre above the sidelights.

Vessels 12 Metres To 20 Metres

  • A masthead light, separate sidelights and stern light; or
  • A masthead light, combined sidelights and stern light.

The masthead light shall be carried at least 2.5 metres above the gunwale. Combined sidelights shall be carried at least one metre below the masthead light

Sailing Vessels Underway

Sailing vessels while underway (being motor driven) under power shall exhibit navigation lights applicable to power driven vessels.

Sailing Vessels Under 7 Metres

Sailing vessels of less than 7 metres in length, or vessels being rowed, should if practicable exhibit the lights required for sailing vessels over 7 metres.

If not they should have ready use of an electric torch or lighted lantern showing a white light which shall be exhibited in sufficient time to prevent collision

 Sailing Vessels 7 Metres To 20 Metres

  • A combined lantern, that is at or near the top of the mast and incorporates sidelights and stern light; or
  • Separate sidelights and stern light.

Sailing Vessels Over 20 Metres

Must exhibit sidelights and stern light and may carry the optional red and green all round lights. However, these vessels may not carry a combined lantern.

Optional Lights For Sailing Vessels

A sailing vessel of any length which is fitted with sidelights and a stern light (but not a combined lantern) may, in addition, carry two all round lights in a vertical line at or near the top of the mast. The upper light shall be red and the lower green.

Power and Sailing Vessels At Anchor

Vessels less than 50 metres in length at anchor shall exhibit an all round white light, placed where it may be well seen.

Anchor lights must always be shown from sunset to sunrise. If you are at anchor in a busy area, then show additional lights to ensure you are seen and keep a good watch.

Rowing/Paddle Vessels

Such craft must have a torch or lantern ready to display in time to prevent a collision. Craft that are more than 4 metres long should exhibit two all-round lights, either continuous or a combination of continuous and flashing white lights, positioned at either end, in accordance with the Code of Conduct for Rowing.

Navigation By The Stars

In the Northern hemisphere, the best star constellation is the Plough - by following a line through the two outside stars you will find the North Star(Polaris). In the Southern hemisphere, the best signpost is The Southern Cross (Crux). This constellation is not as easy to use or to find as line Plough, but is four bright stars in the shape of a cross (don't use the False Cross to its right which has dimmer stars set further apart). Take a line down the cross and also a line down the two bright stars on its left - where these two lines cross is South.

Basic Rose Compass

Magnetic North And South 

 Charts used for navigation assume true north is to the top and all courses and bearings are taken as reletive to true north. unfortunately the earths magnetic poles do not coincide with the geographic poles. They are not static and are constantly moving.


The magnetic compass points not to true north butmagnetic north and when navigating, a correction Mustalways be made when taking a direction from the chart to use with a compass and vice versa. This correction is called Variation. This variation is by 8 Degres' West (Magnetic North is 8 degres' west of the True North)

Earth’s magnetic field

Earth’s magnetic field (arrowed lines) is similar to that produced by a bar magnet. The dotted lines at the centre of the diagram represent the processes in the earth's core that produce a magnetic field. The arrows represent invisible lines of force, known as magnetic field lines. They indicate the direction a compass arrow lies – pointing north–south.

The magnetic axis (the yellow line between the magnetic north and south poles) is at an angle to earth’s rotational axis (the green line between the geographic north and south poles). Consequently true north (the North Pole) is at some distance from magnetic north. Compass directions need to be corrected for the difference between true north and magnetic north. This difference is called magnetic declination


GPS stands for Global Positioning System. For the GPS to find it's location, it's receiver measures it's Distance from several satelites that fly around the earth a super speeds. Most of the time it can see and comunicate with 8 of them, and chooses the ones that make the best cut. For a three dimensional fix, 4 sateliites are chosen.


When Navigating at Sea, one dimension can be fixed and only three satellites are needed to provide a fix. It is recomended that the antennae is positioned as low as possible to minimize effect as the boat rolls -  gps' update every second and can show a position change due to roll. 

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